A 10-percent sample tabulation of census questionnaires from
the 1982 census provided badly needed statistical data on China's
working population and allowed the first reliable estimates of the
labor force's size and characteristics. The quality of the data was
considered to be quite high, although a 40-million-person
discrepancy existed between the 10-percent sample and the regular
employment statistics. This discrepancy can be explained by the
combination of inaccurate employment statistics and varying methods
of calculation and scope of coverage. The estimated mid-1982 labor
force was 546 million, or approximately 54 percent of the total
population. Males accounted for slightly more than half of the
estimated labor force, and the labor force participation rates for
persons age fifteen years and older were among the highest in the
The 10-percent sample showed that approximately three-fourths
of the labor force worked in the agricultural sector. According to
the State Statistical Bureau, in the mid-1980s more than 120
million people worked in the nonagricultural sector. The sample
revealed that men occupied the great majority of leadership
positions. The average worker was a youthful thirty-three years
old, and three out of every four workers were under forty-five
years of age. The working population had a low education level.
Less than 40 percent of the labor force had more than a primary
school education, and 30 percent were illiterate or semiliterate.
In mid-1982 the overall unemployment rate was estimated to be
about 5 percent. Of the approximately 25 million unemployed, 12
million were men and 13 million were women. The unemployment rate
was highest in the northeast and lowest in the south. The
unemployment rates were higher than those of East Asian, Southeast
Asian, and Pacific island countries for which data were available
but were lower than the rates found in North America and Europe.
Virtually all of the unemployed persons in cities and towns were
under twenty years of age.
Data as of July 1987